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Smith v. Brennan

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

July 11, 2019

TERESA H. SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
MEGAN J. BRENNAN, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          PAUL W. GRIMM UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This dispute has been festering for more than a decade. Before filing this federal lawsuit, Plaintiff Teresa H. Smith, a former longtime employee of the U.S. Postal Service, had been seeking redress through the federal administrative complaint process since 2007, when she first filed a formal complaint accusing the agency of discriminating against her on the basis of a disability. That process concluded in July 2017, when the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's ("EEOCss") Office of Federal Operations ("OFO") denied her appeal of the agency's final order and issued her a right-to-sue letter.

         U.S. Postmaster General Megan J. Brennan, the defendant in this civil action, argues Ms. Smith's suit is time-barred. I agree. Ms. Smith filed her action two weeks too late and has not offered any legitimate reasons for equitably estopping Ms. Brennan from enforcing the time limit. I am therefore granting the defense's Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment, which I am treating as a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Ms. Smith worked for the Postal Service for 20 years, from July 1988 until her resignation in October 2008. See Smith Decl. ¶ 2, ECF No. 16-1. In February 2007, she filed an Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") complaint alleging that the agency had denied her application for a position as a sales, services, and distribution associate, even though she had been the only bidder and was qualified for the job.[1] Feb. 2007 EEO Compl., ECF No. 12-3. She accused the agency of discriminating against her because of her plantar fascistic, a condition that limited her ability to stand or walk. See id.; Smith Decl. ¶ 4.

         In proceedings before an EEOC administrative judge, the agency argued that Ms. Smith did not meet the definition of an "individual with a disability" and was not "qualified" for relief under the Rehabilitation Act; that the agency had made good-faith efforts to accommodate her; and that there were legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for all of the challenged actions. See 2007 USPS Motion 6-14, ECF No. 12-4. The administrative judge, granting the agencyss motion for a decision without a hearing, concluded Ms. Smith's limitations associated with her plantar fascistic were not severe enough to constitute a "disability" under the Rehabilitation Act. See March 2008 AJ Decision 10-11, ECF No. 12-5. He also concluded that the agency's actions did not support a claim of reprisa1[2] because Ms. Smith could not establish that its stated reasons were pretextual.. See Id. at 11. The agency soon afterward issued a final order adopting the administrative judge's findings. See June 2012 OFO Order 2, ECF No. 12-6.

         Ms. Smith appealed the agency's final order to the OFO. See id. at 1. In a June 2012 order, the OFO vacated the agency's order, concluding that it had "failed to develop an adequate evidentiary record" to support an assessment of whether Ms. Smith was "substantially limited in a major life activity because of her plantar fa(s]ciitis." See Id. at 4-6. The OFO remanded the complaint back to the agency with instructions to complete a supplemental investigation. See Id. at 6.

         In September 2015, after a supplemental investigation, the EEOC administrative judge again granted the agency's motion for a decision without a hearing. Sept. 2015 AJ Order, ECF No. 12-10. As before, the administrative judge concluded Ms. Smith had failed to establish that she was a "person with a disability." Id. at 10. He determined that Ms. Smith did have a permanent impairment but that "the restrictions it causes are not so severe that she is unable to perform any major life activity that the average person in the general population can perform." Id. Likewise, the administrative judge concluded that she had once again failed to establish that the agency's stated reasons for cancelling her bid for the position she sought were pretextual.. See Id. at 12. The agency adopted the administrative judge's decision, as it had seven years earlier. See July 2017 OFO Order 1, ECF No. 1-1.

         This time, the OFO affirmed the agency's final order, concluding "that the AJ correctly determined that the preponderance of the evidence did not establish that [Ms. Smith] was discriminated against by the Agency as alleged." Id. The OFO enclosed along with its decision a "Statement of Rights - On Appeal," which outlined Ms. Smith's legal options in response to the decision. See Id. at 3. Following a discussion of her right to ask the OFO to reconsider its decision, the statement noted: "You have a right to file a civil action in an appropriate United States District Court within ninety (90) calendar days from the date that you receive this decision." Id.

         The OFO's decision is dated July 25, 2017. See Id. at 4. Ms. Smith, who is representing herself in this suit, filed her Complaint in this Court on November 9, 2017. See Compl., ECF No.

         1. The section of her Complaint marked "Statement of Claim" reads in full:

I was wrongfully denied a position that entitled me to a different work shift. I was fully qualified to perform the duties of the job because I was working the exact same position. I had previously filed an EEO in 8-06. The position I applied for was in 11-06. I was informed by the bid clerk I was the only successful bidder and the Postmaster informed her not to notified [sic] me I was awarded the position.

         Compl. 6. The civil cover sheet identifies her claim as one for retaliation under Title VII. See ECF No. 1-3.

         Postmaster General Megan J. Brennan, the named defendant in this suit, filed a Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 12. The accompanying memorandum, which construes Ms. Smith's claim as a disability-based discrimination claim under the Rehabilitation Act, see Def.'s Mem. 10, ECF No. 12-1, urges the Court to dismiss this lawsuit as untimely, see Id. at 7-9. It further argues that Ms. Smith's claim fails because she cannot demonstrate that she is a qualified individual with a disability. See Id. at 10-13.

         The parties have fully briefed the motion.[3] See ECF Nos. 12-1, 16, 252 28. No hearing is required. See Loc. R. 105.6.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Postmaster General Brennan has styled her motion as a Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment. Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which governs motions to dismiss, authorizes parties in a civil action to seek the dismissal of a claim or complaint on the grounds that it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6); Tucker v. Specialized Loan Servicing, LLC, 83 F.Supp.3d 635, 647-48, (D. Md. 2015). This rule's purpose "is to test the sufficiency of a complaint and not to resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses." Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief," Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), and must state "a plausible claim for relief," Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id

         When reviewing a motion to dismiss, "[t]he court may consider documents attached to the complain,, as well as documents attached to the motion to dismiss, if they are integral to the complaint and their authenticity is not disputed." Sposato v. First Mariner Bank, No. CCB-12- 1569, 2013 WL 1308582, at *2 (D. Md. Mar. 28, 2013); see also CACI Int'l v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co.,566 F.3d 150, 154 (4th Cir. 2009). However, if the Court considers matters outside the pleadings, the Court must treat the motion as a motion for summary judgment under ...


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